Minorities have been underrepresented across the sciences, and the aquatic sciences are no exception. While under-represented minorities account for around 24% of the U.S. workforce, American Indians, Native Alaskans, African Americans and Hispanic Americans represent less than 5% of Earth, Atmospheric and Marine Science Ph.D.s awarded to US citizens and permanent visa holders.
Members of the aquatic science community have been instrumental in enhancing minority participation, and ASLO has been part of this effort.
In 1989, Dr. Benjamin E. Cuker of Hampton University began the ASLO-Hampton University Minorities in the Aquatic Sciences Project. With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), minority students from across the country have been able to participate in minority-focused workshops and the annual ASLO meeting. More than 400 undergraduate and graduate students have participated since 1989. Established minority and majority scientists participate as speakers and mentors. Ben and his program have been recognized through various awards including the ASLO Distinguished Service Award and a Pew Foundation Fellowship.
Ben is shown at left (in blue shirt) with students at the ASLO 1996 meeting in Milwaukee, WI.
Through his Pew Foundation Fellowship, Ben began the Multicultural students At Sea Together (MAST) program. MAST involves a three-week cruise on the Chesapeake Bay where participants study marine science, marine policy, the heritage of African Americans and Native Americans on the Bay and their contributions to the maritime world, and sailing. This program is now funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and has been expanded to include visits to NOAA facilities on the Bay.
Dr. C. Susan Weiler of Whitman College was involved in Ben's program for many years as a mentor. In 2000, she raised funds from NOAA to expand the graduate component of Ben's workshop at the ASLO/2000 meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2001, Sue received NSF support to establish a centralized database and electronic resources to enhance the visibility, networking and professional success of minorities in the aquatic sciences. The program includes the Minority Student Registry, profiles of minority aquatic scientists, the overall development of this website, and an electronic distribution list designed to establish a "virtual community" of minority aquatic science scholars and to provide a broad means of communication with the broader community.
In 2005, direction of the MAS website was taken over by Dr. Benjamin Cuker.